2. Los Awesome [feat. Jay Rock]
3. Collard Greens [feat. Kendrick Lamar]
4. What They Want [feat. 2 Chainz]
5. Hoover Street
6. Studio [feat. BJ the Chicago Kid]
8. The Purge [feat. Tyler, the Creator and Kurupt]
9. Blind Threats [feat. Raekwon]
10. Hell of a Night
11. Break the Bank
12. Man of the Year
Running time: 59:25
At the time of writing, Schoolboy Q is well on his way to debuted atop the Billboard 200 with his major label debut record, Oxymoron. After a successful year for the rap genre last year with numerous number one debuts, that trends look to continue with Oxymoron shifting some 250,000 copies. The record is the rapper's third overall, having released previous efforts to digital retailers only through his own label. Q has invited a host of guests onto the album to celebrate what was an inevitable rise to the top, and there's a plethora of big name producers on board too, so there's a certain level of expectation surrounding this record, and it's a level of expectation that is pretty much matched, more or less.
Fans will have likely be accustomed the album's three big singles. The Kendrick Lamar-featuring “Collard Greens” made a minor impression on the Hot 100 last months, but fans of the genre will know it and love it already. Lamar and Schoolboy Q make quite the double act, rapping smoothly over a bouncy as fuck beat provided by producers Gwen Bunn and THC. The track made a number of year-end lists in 2013, and it's deserving of its accolades. “Man of the Year” and “Break the Bank” are packaged together right at the end of the standard version of the album. The former is Schoolboy's most well-known single to date, charting on the Hot 100 and also featuring on the NBA 2K14 video game. It's a slower, more deliberate beat and features no guest spots, but Schoolboy showcases ferocious delivery, though lyrically it's found to be lacking. “Break the Bank” has a wonderful oldschool vibe to it, produced by the Alchemist, and is a real throwback track, loaded with eerie piano and massive bass. The track suffers from again lyrically, with themes focusing on making money and scraping to earn every penny. You can't deny it's a fantastic beat though.
But then again, if you came into this record expecting some kind of lyrically genius and some socially conscious commentary of life, then you've got the wrong artist. Those familiar with Black Hippy – the collective of Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar – will likely be aware that Lamar is the main man for writing rhymes that really matter, and that's something that fans of the genre have recognised, hence Lamar's success in the last two years. Q writes rhymes that are completely unadulterated and that's evident throughout Oxymoron. There's no filter; Q spits freely and allows his guests to do the same. Yes, lyrically it's the stereotypical themes of girls, sex, drugs, guns and the like, but the delivery is what sets this record apart from its contemporaries.
That's not to say there aren't examples of Schoolboy Q offering a more personal approach to his recordings. Numerous tracks make mention of the rapper's depression, his tumultuous family relationships, devastating personal experiences and his daughter Joy makes a number of appearances on the record (leave the Eminem comparisons at the door though). The problem lies in the fact that Q raps in the same blasé fashion about his troubles as he does about his successes, and it encourages the listener to ignore the words and merely enjoy the vibe. Of course, the vibe is pretty good, and it is an album you could just chill out to in any manner you see fit, but you'd learn a hell of a lot more about Schoolboy Q by paying attention to the lyrics. It's unclear whether Q wants you to care about his past or not, but one might suggest it's Q's way of showing how unapologetic he is – he offers no forgiveness, nor does he seek sympathy, this is who he is, like it or not.
The record is loaded with guest verses, and although there are a few notable omissions (where's A$AP Rocky? [Editor's note: he actually shows up on the deluxe edition]), those who are here mostly contribute solid cuts. 2 Chains provides what is surely one of his more memorable verse on the trippy “What They Want,” stablemate Jay Rock kills it on the venomous “Los Awesome,” and Tyler, the Creator rebounds from a poor 2013 with one of the record's biggest, most infectious choruses on “The Purge,” that also features stellar work from Kurupt. Q is actually at his weakest here, and the beat isn't all that interesting, so his guests actually pulled the guy out of the mire on this one.
Perhaps the album's centrepiece is the seven-minute “Prescription/Oxymoron.” It's certainly formatted in such a way, right in the middle of the album and with a lengthy running time, that it's supposed to act as the album's anchor. It takes a slow-burn approach, it's a more personal track, and daughter Joy makes an appearances. The beat is down-tempo and very melancholy and manages to generate of feeling of sympathy for the rapper's past, as unwanted as it may be. Schoolboy Q eludes to ignore phone calls from his friends and family, but always being readily available to talk to his dealers. It's the sole instance where Q opens up and actually talks about the subject like it really matters to him. The song is epic in subject matter as well as length, but the problem lies in the fact that he only hits this kind of height once or twice on the album.
“Hoover Street” comes a close second, with an incredibly vivd description of certain childhood memories, but it's not quite as dramatic as it could. Schoolboy Q provides very clear images on having his drug-addicted uncle, the squalor in which they lived and the treacherous weapons that were strewn about the house. So extreme are some of the images that it fails to connect on a certain level, and it doesn't help that Q raps about such personal experiences in the same way he spits about getting laid. Clearly though, the stand out tracks are those where Q really let's his audience make an impression of what made him the man he is today, and to his credit this is the first time he's got so personal. However, a lot of what's left is nothing we haven't heard from countless artists before him and for a record that was meant to be 2014's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, it's not quite on the level of what's been promised.
Schoolboy Q - “Man of the Year”
The 411: Oxymoron is one of the most hotly-anticipated hip-hop records of 2014, not least because it comes from the TDE label that has already launched Kendrick Lamar to superstardom> Schoolboy Q's major label debut doesn't quite hit those heights, but it's not a bad attempt. On the contrary, Q spits some slick rhymes about life on the streets, and he's talking from the perspective of a front line soldier, rather than taking a backseat. So vivd are Q's rhymes that the listener is given quite the insight into Q's lifestyle. The record's highlights are when Q talks about his childhood, his family and upbringing, though these topics aren't explored enough for the record to really be called a classic. The record also falters when dealing with the most stereotypical of hip-hop topics, guns, girls, drugs and money. But that is Schoolboy Q's life and few could bring such images to our imaginations quite like he does on Oxymoron, an early frontrunner for hip-hop record of the year.